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Partnership creates Sierra Leone clinic

 
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7:00 A.M. EST July 15, 2010 | MANONKOH VILLAGE, Sierra Leone (UMNS)

The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in Manonkoh , Sierra Leone, was recently dedicated  with the help of  funds from Sierra Leone Annual Conference in partnership with the Minnesota Annual Conference. UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.
The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in Manonkoh , Sierra Leone, was recently dedicated with the help of funds from Sierra Leone Annual Conference in partnership with the Minnesota Annual Conference. UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.

People needing health care in the remote communities of Manonkoh, Rokon, Maserry and Masethie in northern Sierra Leone used to be in dire straits.

Pregnant women in labor and people with other health emergencies were rushed from these communities on motorbikes — the main means of transportation in rural Sierra Leone — through a 30-kilometer stretch of bad road to Makeni, the provincial capital, for treatment, sometimes during odd hours of the night.

Stories abound of patients who had lost their lives to treatable ailments because their families could not convey them in time to receive immediate medical attention.

All that changed on June 4 when the United Methodist Sierra Leone Annual (regional) Conference, in partnership with United Methodists in Minnesota, dedicated a $60,000 health facility in Manonkoh Village.

Funded mainly by the Lance and Julie Burma Foundation of Minnesota, the new Doris Acton UMC Community Health Center is named after a parish nurse from Minnesota.

“Today, the focus of the clinic continues to be primary care to all people; care that is accessible and affordable,” Acton said. “Nobody is turned away. We primarily focus on the diseases that cause the biggest morbidity and mortality rates in children… malaria, pneumonia, worms and diarrhea.”

Reaching remote communities

Acton said she first conceived the idea of “bringing health care to remote communities” in Sierra Leone in 2005 when she visited the West African country as a mission volunteer.

“Our goal is to stuff it with enough equipment and personnel so that we can be opened for seven days a week for emergency cases and normal routine checkups.” — Lance Burma

With her dream in mind, Acton returned the next year with a construction team that visited several villages to decide which one was more in need. “We chose Manonkoh because it was the most remote of all the communities we visited,” she recalled. “It did not have a health center, but it had a United Methodist Church and school and the people were so open and so gracious to receive us.”

The first medical team from Minnesota visited Manonkoh in 2007 and delivered basic treatment to the communities for about a week.

“It blossomed from there …and we’ve been running a clinic once a week with the help of nurse Aminata Kamara and her team of volunteer nurses,” Acton said. “The whole focus has always been the delivery of basic health care that is affordable to people who have no easy access to health care.”

Team members visiting Sierra Leone from Minnesota have often brought in additional medication for the effective running of the Manonkoh clinic — mainly medication that is not easily available in the country.

As a result, patients travel from different parts of the country to receive treatment at Manonkoh clinic because of the good quality of drugs they receive. “But we really would like to use as many medications as possible from this country so that it’s more sustainable long term,” Julie Burma said.

Providing health education

The clinic also has been involved in health education in the communities. Every week, the health workers teach the patients visiting the clinic different ideas about health involving nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, malaria prevention and basic medical care.

In addition, the health workers do outreach — visiting the families in their homes — to verify that no child or no adult is being left behind.

“We want to make sure that we are able to reach out and bring these children and these adults who need the health care,” Acton emphasized on dedication day.

The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in Manonkoh  , Sierra Leone.
The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in Manonkoh , Sierra Leone.

“This building represents a long process, but it also represents the beginning of a new phase of our work here in Sierra Leone,” Lance Burma told the jubilant crowd that had converged at the project site in Manonkoh on dedication day.

Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu and an entourage traveled 200 kilometers from Freetown, the capital, to grace the occasion. They were joined by government representatives, community elders and representatives of the other three beneficiary communities.

M.C. Conteh, lay leader for the Makeni district, said he was proud of what the Minnesota Conference was doing there. Providing health for the sick was one of the strongest pillars of Christ's ministry, he noted. “That is what Christ did for most parts of his ministry — he gave sight to the blind and fed the hungry — this is what Minnesota is doing in Sierra Leone.”

The foundation stone of the health center was laid in July 2009, and work is ongoing as the staff begins to use the facility. When it is finished, the health center will have staff quarters for nurses, a guesthouse for future teams visiting Manonkoh, a well to provide clean water and a solar power-generating system and incinerator.

‘Treated with dignity’

“Our goal is to stuff it with enough equipment and personnel so that we can be opened for seven days a week for emergency cases and normal routine checkups,” Lance Burma added. “We hope that the patients will be treated with dignity and respect, and we also hope that people will come to view this as an area of learning about how to keep their children healthy so that they don’t need to fall ill and bring them to the clinic.”

Other projects undertaken by Minnesota teams through Acton and the Burma Foundation include building new wells and toilets, distributing food supplies, providing mosquito bed nets, offering scholarships to high school students, rehabilitating the Manonkoh primary school and purchasing a van for outreach services. More than 50 team members from Minnesota have visited Manonkoh in the past four years.

United Methodists providing health care in Sierra Leone also are facing some new challenges. Because Sierra Leone ranks among countries with the highest infant and maternal mortality rates, the government recently introduced free medical care for pregnant women, lactating women and children under 5 in all government hospitals.

The new government initiative has increased the salaries of all government health workers by about 500 percent, making it difficult for church clinics to compete for staff. Huge crowds also gathered at United Methodist health centers and hospitals in April when the new initiative as launched, expecting free treatment.

United Methodist and other faith-based health service organizations are now in negotiations with the Sierra Leone government for inclusion in the health initiative since the government health service does not exist in every part of the country.

*Jusu is a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.

Media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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